Thoughts on Strategy and Tactics
by Stephen Agar
As we are about to start an Intimate Diplomacy Tournament, I thought I would put my head on the block and summarise how I play the game. I think that it is essential when playing Intimate Diplomacy that you don't just adopt standard Diplomacy tactics as ID is a very different game, the economics of the bidding system and the mercenary powers combining to introduce new qualifications as to how the game should be played. Here are my thoughts:
Your Home Power
1. Which Country? Difficult to say really. The initial points awarded to various countries are on the basis of rewarding Powers with many near neighbours, though paradoxically those are the very powers who can expand the quickest (due to the proximity of so many SC's). You can play and win with any Power, but some combinations are more one-sided than others. E.g. Russia would normally beat England. Games involving Turkey and England can be long drawn out affairs, whereas Austria vs. Germany can be very bloody. Some games are even decided after the 1901 bids! (last year I beat Bob Kendrick (Italy) after S01 when playing Austria because in 1901 I controlled France and Germany as well - Venice never had much of a chance).
2. Expand! Maximise the number of builds for your home country every year. Remember - growth is exponential. Your Treasury is replenished according to the number of units you have, so more units mean more money. What's more, the number of units you have places a limit on the number of new SC's you can acquire, so it is important to capture lots of centres early. E.g. it is possible for England to only get two builds in 1901 (indeed England can only get three if he controls France), which means that by the end of 1901 the theoretical maximum no. of SC's for such an England is 10 centres. At the other extreme Russia can easily get four builds in 1901, giving a maximum of 16 centres at the end of 1902. Given the ability to grow quickly is central to success, it can be seen that England is not the best country on the board in this respect, while Turkey, although near lots of centres, has limits placed on its expansion due to the geography of the board.
3. Bidding. There is no easy answer to this. Do you bluff or double bluff or just blindfold yourself and use a pin? The No.1 priority is secure and rapid growth, so bid a lot in 1901 for an adjacent country which can guarantee growth. Your opportunities to hurt your opponent in 1901 are limited because the very mercenary you would need to inconvenience him is probably the very power he will bid a lot for. Therefore, further 1901 bids should be placed in order to set up a position for 1902. E.g. If England controls Russia in 1901 he won't necessarily get any more builds that year, but he could set up growth in 1902 by vacating Scandinavia.
4. Overbidding is a Mug's Game. Don't overbid save in exceptional circumstances. It is rarely necessary and usually goes wrong with disastrous consequences. If you're losing heavily overbidding will be ineffective and if the game is evenly balanced why take the risk?
5. Invite Yourself In. The rules may say that a Power cannot dislodge one of its own units, but they do not preclude a mercenary from supporting or convoying one of your units into its own centres. For example, as noted above England can only get three builds in 1901 if in A01 a French fleet in ENG convoys English A(Wal) to Bre or Bel (usually Bre and then remove the F(ENG) in case it falls into hostile hands). In the early game one of the main reasons for bidding for mercenaries is so you can occupy their centres.
6. Fight Wars by Proxy. Of course, the other reason for bidding for a mercenary is to attack your opponent - but you must be careful how this is done. In the early days the idea is to inhibit your opponents growth, while growing yourself. Thus, if your opponent plays Italy and you control Austria in 1901, you can be confident of holding him to a single build. That would put him at a significant disadvantage for 1902 as he would only have 4 units with which to occupy centres.
7. Think Ahead. Always be mindful about where you leave mercenary units at the end of a year. For example, there is no point in attacking Turkey with a mercenary Italy if all you are going to do is leave Italian fleets in the ION and EMS which can then be used to convoy Turkish A(Smy)-Tun! Moving mercenaries towards your opponents is not always the answer. Similarly, don't allow mercenary units to get behind your lines or occupy strategic positions unless you can guarantee to retain control of them the following year.
8. Consider When to Take Out Mercenaries. Generally, the power which is ahead will want to start eliminating small mercenary countries, so it can concentrate its superior financial resources. Similarly, once you have control of a neighbour and use it to help you expand, you will want to weaken it (or eliminate it) to stop it being used against you (especially if you opponent has more spare cash). On the other hand - if your opponent is ahead, you may want to leave minor mercenaries in the game for longer as it increases the likelihood of you controlling a mercenary power and makes it more expensive for your opponent.
9. Make Good Use of Mercenary Builds. If you are Turkey and you control Russia, it may be wise to build F(StP)nc in order to limit the effectiveness of Russia against you in the future. Similarly France may find a mercenary build by Germany of F(Ber) as less threatening than A(Mun). Sometimes it may even be a good idea to eliminate the units of one mercenary just so you can rebuild in a better strategic position.
The Crucial First Bids
Of course your bids must depend on which Power is the enemy - but a quick whizz through suggests the following targets for centres and bids:
Austria: Italy is crucial - if you don't control it your builds will be severely limited. Russia is important so you don't waste a potential build defending from Russian A(Gal). Germany is not essential, especially if you have Italy and Russia, but A(Mun)-Boh may cause you problems. You do not need Turkey to guarantee three builds.
England: Nwy / Bel / Bre / Den / Hol. You need France to be under your control and Russia to be at least neutral to get three builds. If your opponent has Germany you may face a German F(NTH) at the end of 1901.
France: Spa / Por / Bel / Lon / Ven. England and Italy are important, but you do not need Germany if you have these two to guarantee three builds.
Germany: Den / Swe / Hol / Bel / Par / Ven / Vie / War / Mar. France guarantees a good start, but your back is vulnerable to Austria, Russia and even Italy. A difficult country to play.
Italy: Mun / Vie / Bud / Tri / Ser / Gre / Tun / Mar. Austria is crucial in order to get your builds, France less so. Germany cannot do much harm if you have Austria and France.
Russia: Swe / Nwy / Ber / Mun / Vie / Bud / Rum / Bul / Ank / Con. Turkey is probably No.1, with Austria and Germany runners-up. Turkey can convoy an A(Sev) to Ank, Con or Bul in A01, while Germany guarantees you Sweden.
Turkey: Sev / Rum / Ser / Bul / Gre. Russia must be first choice, with Austria a poor second. Italy is of marginal interest in 1901.
Reprinted from Spring Offensive 32